For Clients’ Sake, Technology Must Be Used in Tandem With Critical, Creative Thinking

This article first appeared in the September issue of Texas Real Estate Business magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

There are now dozens of commercial real estate platforms and apps on the market today that are designed to assist brokers in their day-to-day activities, and many are quite good.

However, any technology should primarily serve to enhance how brokers serve their clients and not direct how that service is provided. Too often, the process a technology lays down may actually become a stumbling block in the way of creating the most economical and beneficial transaction for a client.

Overreliance on Tech

By way of explanation, let’s start with a simple example. You’re at any checkout counter. The cashier rings up your order and the register shows that you owe $13.42. You hand over $20.

Suddenly, for some unknown reason, the cash register screen goes blank. And then the cashier’s face goes blank, too. Making change the old-fashioned way is simply no longer taught, because technology has taken the place of thinking through the problem.

A comparable scenario could happen if brokers rely solely on what a commercial real estate platform tells them to do. Wrapped up in completing the formula and following a detailed path, there may seem to be no room for creative thinking. But in fact, that is exactly the old-fashioned method necessary to help you give a client the best overall economic package possible.

Creative Thinking Required

Call it whatever you like — creativity, intuition, experience — the bottom line is every client deserves individualized service. That often calls for thinking outside of the technological process.

Consider transaction negotiations for a client with locations in multiple markets. A broker not only needs to think creatively in order to negotiate the best economic structure, but must also be able to recognize and consider a variety of factors that makes one market different from another. A technology platform’s set processes can’t do that. Rather, the processes treat all markets just the same.

A broker, on the other hand, is able to take knowledge about a specific market, factor in a client’s needs and goals and negotiate a transaction that best serves the client within that market. In this case, technology can be used to support a broker’s efforts to come up with creative real estate solutions.

Do your research on a client and the market first, and then turn to a technology platform to pull properties. In other words, don’t try to mold a customer to what the technology offers, but use technology to achieve a client’s unique objectives.

Face-to-Face Meetings

Sometimes technology can even make it easy to complete a deal without ever visiting a client or listing agent in person. All you have to do is follow the steps of the process to arrive at a deal that is considered “good enough.”

But more than anything, real estate is a people-oriented business. Therefore, face-to-face meetings are often critical to building a relationship and rapport. And that connection is often key to negotiating the best deal for a client.

Henry S. Miller recently booked an out-of-town trip just to see the other agent on a deal for a client with multiple locations. We met, walked the space, talked about goals and just became acquainted. By building that relationship, the company was able to negotiate a better tenant improvement package, a lower rental rate and escalation and other economic benefits for the client.

This anecdote begs the question of  what would have transpired if that trip hadn’t happened? Chances are that the client would have ultimately paid a higher cost. So while technology has advantages, it also has limitations. There simply is no technological substitute for personal service, creative thinking and market knowledge.

Customer Advantage

Let’s face it — the genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back to the days when business was transacted without technology. And truthfully, many technological advances have improved efficiencies in commercial real estate.

Nevertheless, just because technology has made completing the transaction more efficient and much easier does not necessarily mean that it’s better. Technology is indeed a valuable piece of the process, but it must be managed correctly.

Commercial real estate brokers need to think critically and creatively about each situation a client presents and then use technology to support the best solution.